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Art Tips For Programmers?

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the everything-must-have-a-drop-shadow dept.

Graphics 565

An anonymous reader writes "Recently I've found myself in a bit of a bind with artwork. My programming contracts have been rather small, barely enough to pay myself let alone an artist. The art needs aren't intensive, mostly icons or sprites depending on the project. Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor. Are there any other developers who have learned to be self-sufficient? Are there any resources available to educate me on the finer points of making graphics that look professional?" One resource for the less-artistic among us is the collection of free SVG clip art at, though it won't give advice for creating new art. What are some others?

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gmail invites (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825804)

WARNING: Goatse-like images DONT CLICK (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825860)

One time I wish I was back to modem speed

TROLL! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825883)

Parent is one of the scam artists who hordes gmail invites to make money off of. The invites work.

Thanks for the invite! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825912)

Now I know what all my friends were talking about! Thanks.

Re:gmail invites (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826058)

thanks for the invites dude!

you rule!

fp (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825805)


one place to look (5, Informative)

Chip7 (587423) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825817)

On place to look for art and helpfull artists is Deviantart []

Re:one place to look (1)

style7711 (535582) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826009)

They also have a good selection of dual screen high res wallpaper. It's a good twofor.

if you don't have it, you don't have it (4, Insightful)

parawing742 (646604) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825819)

Sounds like you have all the right tools, but are lacking the finer points of graphic design. Might be worthwhile to take evening classes on computer design. I've personally found these to be helpful. and inkscape (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825823)

I highly reccommend inkscape, which is pretty good for creating svg art, even for those who are not very artistic. It make drawing really easy.

Also, try, where there is a lot of public domain licened content you can use.

DO NOT USE inkscape (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825998)

Ask Tigert and other "open source" artists if they use inkscape/sodipodi for those beautful creations. I'm sure 99% don't do it.

I'm not trying to be funny or initiate a flamewar, but opensource art tools are far from perfect. Give it 5-10 more years.

PS: We all use that opensource tools, but for personal use. Professional creation is another matter.

This being Slashdot and all.. (1)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825824)

I offer you the following advice: 'Infringe' them off the internet.

Re:This being Slashdot and all.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825907)

Yes, please do. The artistic community loves to send out cease and desist orders - especially when people are ripping them off. Ah, programmers - they think they can get away with anything.

Re:This being Slashdot and all.. (1)

mumblestheclown (569987) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825916)

you mean "share" them for yourself. after all, there is no loss, since you've only made a copy.

and by the way, you are going to hell for attempting to make money from your programming

buy an icon collection (3, Informative)

pinder (530914) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825827)

Buy one of the icon collections at [] for only $350usd. They can be used royalty-free for any personal or commercial projects.

Re:buy an icon collection (4, Informative)

Squareball (523165) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825888)

Try [] A lot of the icon sets are GPL.

Re:buy an icon collection (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825963)

A lot of the icon sets are GPL.

So risk having to release the source code to the entire application because you borrowed what was essentially public domain graphics? Riiiight.

Re:buy an icon collection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825986)

Too bad about that GPL virus...

Re:buy an icon collection (1)

kumquathead (240763) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825988)

I like icons from [] . Their collection has lots of useful icons with consistent look and feel.

Practice and experimentation (4, Insightful)

athanis (241024) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825830)

Personally, I find any tutorial online a very weak foundation to build on. They teach you specific tricks but nothing about being 'artistic'.

Better would be for you to play around with the different tools. Experiment and keep the results, they might come in handy. And it's best not to start on the computer. Do a hand drawing of what you have in mind.

I heard this quote from my prof. once:
"Laborers work with their hands,
Crasftmen work with their brain,
Artists work with their heart."


Re:Practice and experimentation (1)

PMJ2kx (828679) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825880)

...and "Geeks work with their hacks."

Just go with the flow... (3, Insightful)

sH4RD (749216) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825831)

When working on graphics just let your creative juices flow. If what you wanted isn't the result, perhaps what came out is better? When I am working on graphics for a program or website I come up with a basic idea for where I want to go, and just play around and experiement. It doesn't take as long as it seems like it would, and some great creative products result. With Photoshop the best way to really get a feel for it is to have a bit of fun. Experiement, see what comes out. If you can't seem to be creative go look at a free tutorial online, many can both educate and inspire you.

Re:Just go with the flow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825889)

The only problem is, my creative juicy all flow out when I am doing development. I find I very little juice left, particularly when it comes to graphics design

The Tools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825837)

Sounds like you shouldn't have bought the tools.

Torrent, my friend. Torrent.

Re:The Tools? (2, Interesting)

athanis (241024) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825872)

Actually, that's interesting. It's like the chicken and the egg problem. Graphic tools can only become profitable if enough people use them (PHotoshop being an almost de facto standard in the graphics world). However, the learning curve for these programs are so high and they are so expensive that it seems hardly likely for them to start off.

It's kind of like Microsoft's penetration due to software piracy..

In any case, we aren't discussing tools, but computer art. Tools don't make the artist. Practice, patience and passion do, as some famous person once said.

Should I say it? (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825840)

Outsource it to India *duck*

(Seriously, their time is cheaper than yours, unless you get sub-min. wage.)

Re:Should I say it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826007)

Fathers of Time Sharing systems would not be proud.

Leave it to the artists? (4, Insightful)

Proc6 (518858) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825843)

Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor.

All the money in the world doesn't buy you personal artistic talent. Leave it to someone who has it. You could give my grandma a copy of Eclipse, VS.NET, EditPlus and vi and she'd still suck as a coder.

Re:Leave it to the artists? (1)

athanis (241024) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825905)

That's true, as I said earlier, tools don't make the artist.
However, the point of the poster was that he could not afford an artist. And in our competitive marketplace now, it doesn't seem to out-of-reason to try to hone more than one skill.

But then again, the graphical needs of said project do not seem 'intensive' so Photoshop and Maya definitely seem like overkill for simple development projects (icons and sprites?! only if Photoshop is for free!....)

Re:Leave it to the artists? (4, Interesting)

Proc6 (518858) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825948)

Can't "afford" an artist, but can "afford" to buy him or herself Photoshop, Lightwave and Maya?


Re:Leave it to the artists? (3, Insightful)

citog (206365) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826003)

A thinly veiled accusation of piracy there, I reckon.
Maybe, he thought he could do it himself and that the long term investment would be cheaper than constantly hiring an artist. Maybe he had the impression, as a lot of us do, that artists are expensive.

Re:Leave it to the artists? (4, Insightful)

mav[LAG] (31387) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825969)

Personal skill at art is something that is teachable and can be learned. Objects look the way they do because of where they are in relation to the viewer and what their dimensions are. Similarly light has rules which you can learn if you are to duplicate the illusion of light in a 2d representation like a drawing. Textures also have rules and so on. It's all about drawing what you see and not what you think is there. Sure there are people who have this ability from early on but the rest of us can learn very quickly.
I'd suggest getting Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain if the submitter wants to learn for himself. And let me shamelessly plug my Deviant Art site [] so I can get a few more views. I must finish that Neo drawing sometime...

Amateurs create amateurish art. (4, Insightful)

Raffaello (230287) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825844)

Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output. There is a tendency among technical people to devalue the skills of non-technical people (and the other way 'round as well). This is a mistake. People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training.

Invest in a professional. You'll be surprised how cheaply (sadly) good graphic artists will work.

Re:Amateurs create amateurish art. (4, Interesting)

PalmerEldritch42 (754411) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825917)

I agree. And you can generally find some very cheap (even dare I say it, free) labor at the local art college in your area. You know, the Art Institute of Whatever for instance. You will get some good artwork cheap, and if your sign the right papers for them at the school, they will get credit for an internship. It works very well for both of you. I have done this when I was in school and I helped out some folks with some artwork. I got class credit for it, so I didn't mind working for free. Then, once I graduated, I moved it into a mostly-full-time freelance job. Then, later, I started outsourcing my own work to another school. So, it all comes around full-circle, and everyone wins.

Re:Amateurs create amateurish art. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825957)

Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output....People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training. Invest in a professional. You'll be surprised how cheaply (sadly) good graphic artists will work.

True, but what I have found is that the audience, non-artists, does not really know the difference between pro and amature. Maybe if you took a poll, the pro's work would rate a bit higher on average, but the amature stuff would be rated "good enough". (It worked for MS.)

Where the amature work really fails is if other pro's rate it. Thus, a big-bugdet site will make sure something passes with pros to avoid a sullied reputation. When they get advice, they will often ask pros, not regular people.

After all, if you ask regular people, then you get things like Dogs Playing Pool instead of Mona Lisa :-)

Re:Amateurs create amateurish art. (5, Insightful)

IntelliTubbie (29947) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825991)

Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output. There is a tendency among technical people to devalue the skills of non-technical people (and the other way 'round as well). This is a mistake. People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training.

Invest in a professional. You'll be surprised how cheaply (sadly) good graphic artists will work.

There's just something about this attitude that runs completely counter to the scientific/hacker mindset. Most people in programming -- and yes, in art especially -- start out as amateur enthusiasts, and through a combination of self-teaching, mentoring, and lots of practice, they become experts. Sure, for immediate results, it's best to hire someone who already has experience under his/her belt. But for someone who sincerely wants to develop expertise, it's frustrating to hear the old "if you don't know it now, you never will" line. It's just downright anti-intellectual.


Re:Amateurs create amateurish art. (1)

cosmo7 (325616) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826011)

Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output.

I would go even further than this: good design isn't something you can apply at the end of a project. Graphic design is about usability as well as style. You need a paper design before you code, and not one that makes sense just to yourself.

Since there are a zillion underemployed web designers around it probably would be worthwhile posting an ad on craigslist asking for a designer to produce a non-functional Flash demo of your project in return for costs and the folio value of the project. Don't specify what windows or fields or buttons are involved; have them figure out an intuitive model and feed that design into your development process.

It's worth investing some money in this as a clearer interface means lower support obligations and happier clients.

Re:Amateurs create amateurish art. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826025)

Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output. There is a tendency among technical people to devalue the skills of non-technical people (and the other way 'round as well). This is a mistake. People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training.

Perhaps it's because people in programming often got there by "devaluing" the skills of technical people - by having the audacity to claim they could themselves become good by simply doing it, rather than strictly through formal education. What's more, with the friendly community willing to help them learn, they are often right.

If this isn't possible in other fields, perhaps it has more to do with a deficiency of their community than with the amount of skill required.

Can you draw this Pirate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825848) /Pirate.gif

Re:Can you draw this Pirate? (1)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825894)

Arr! That be the pirate of the by-mail art school what's commercials be played between ITT and DeVry on Thursday afternoons during Elimidate.

Take a look at the Open Source offerings (2, Insightful)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825852)

If that doesn't prove to you the utter lack of graphics skill in the Open Source community, I don't know what would convince you. Coming here asking for help from Open Source "artists" is like going to a Sci-fi convention asking for tips on literature: you'll get a lot of input, but it will be mostly useless.

If you want to have professional icons, hire a professional. There are people that do this for a living. They studied and practiced and now are eking out a living doing it. Same as how you studied and practiced and are now making a nice living writing code. Let those people do their job, and concentrate on your job. The product will be better if you let everyone stick to their area of expertise.

Re:Take a look at the Open Source offerings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826035)

This troll actually raises a good point : who does the icon work for most of the big distros, Debian, Redhat, etc..? IMNSHO they usually have rather attractive icons.

Well, for the most part. There are some eye-bleedingly ugly ones as well..

POV-RAY (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825858) [] POV-RAY can make art. kpovmodeler is (or was) included in kdegraphics to help with simple scenes. If you are a programmer, then you may like povray - which is basically like a programming language. I installed kdegraphics on my fedora core 3 laptop, but kpovmodeler wasn't installed :(. Either it was taken out of kdegraphics or fedora screwed up somehow. I didn't see any notice of its removal on the kde website - nor the kpovmodeler website.

Advice (1)

chris_eineke (634570) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825861)

Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya)
though it won't give advice for creating new art. What are some others?

Don't mix up ownership with pirate ship. Huar huar huar... err, yes.

Learning by example (1)

jmwmit (758485) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825862)

For programmers especially, this should already be a well practiced method. For myself, I do this with web-based applications by making regular trips to [] I am sure there are similar sites out there, anyone have any good sites that they use for inspiration?

College students (4, Informative)

agentkhaki (92172) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825867)

A great untapped resource: college students. If you know folks in college, or there is a local college with a decent art program, contact their career advisor (or anyone at the art school) and let them know that you've got work that needs to be done.

Generally, you'll find one or two students who have the budding (or more developed) skills and know-how, and who will be more than grateful for the opportunity to earn a little extra cash or, more importantly, who will work for free in exchange for being able to use a "real world" project or two in their portfolio.

Not only are you "giving back" to the community, but you get what you need for cheap/free.

Two words of caution though. First, don't be a condescending ass. A lot of non-artistic, business-types tend to think of art students as starving-scum-of-the-earth, and they end up coming across as assholes who don't get the best they could. Second, realize that college students aren't always 100% reliable (were you?), and budget for that time-wise).

Have you no decency? (3, Informative)

solios (53048) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826012)

Yeah, Art Students are a great way to get what you need on the cheap. I should know. Several of my friends - myself included- got fucked over right out of the gate because we believed what the contractor told us- that it would be "a good portfolio-building experience."

So's sitting in my bedroom jacking off into the GIMP, thank you.

"Portfolio Building Experience" means it pays a pittance if you're lucky, and you can totally forget about having any rights to your work. Oh, and PBEs are typically long hours with shit pay and no benefits. My first field experience was one of these- a contract job to do some multimedia work. After the dust settled, my hourly for the project was somewhere around eighty cents.

You get what you pay for- if you get into the habit of taking advantage of art students, don't be surprised if the talent pool suddenly dries up on you.

get a graphics tablet (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825870)

All the Wacom models work reasonably happily with Linux+X and the relevant drivers at [] - wacom is not at all linux-hostile.

Using a tablet means you can draw like an adult on your computer (directly on the screen if you spring for a Wacom Cintiq...).

I used to think a mouse was okay for GIMP and Blender use. It's not. It _utterly sucks_ . I got myself a tablet on a whim and now I can draw as well on my computer as on paper (okay I'm not brilliant at drawing on paper, but like most people I've ever seen, I'm far better on paper or a tablet than drawing with a mouse!)

Re:get a graphics tablet (2, Informative)

log0n (18224) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826023)

This was already marked +Informative, but I'll offer up my agreement with this anyway.

Even if you have no artistic ability (conception, composition, etc), having a wacom table - just like pen and paper - makes blocking out your ideas much easier and clearer than using a mouse or text document alone. Keyboards require us to compose and ponder.. they don't really allow freeform abstract creativity.

Get a table, create at the speed at which you think (and write by hand). Then use the keyboard to clean things up.

And as the original poster stated, even if you can't draw but you can chicken scratch with a pencil, it's a lot easier to do that with a tablet than a mouse.

Don't mean to sound negative (-1, Flamebait)

obeythefist (719316) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825875)

So I'll try to be as constructive as I can - many pursuits in life, although exciting and enriching, are not necessarily a feasible means of support.

Telephone sanitisers, for instance. One or two can be quite useful. But you don't see an organisation hiring 2,000 of them for day to day work. There's simply a limit in society for certain kinds of labour. If the market is full of telephone sanitisers, even though that's what you've always wanted to do, even if you're very good at it, it's still not going to happen for you as a career.

Unfortunately the same applies for being an artist. There are thousands, if not millions of people, who want to become self sufficiently wealthy simply by producing works of art. Regrettably, artwork is rarely something that is immediately profitable. As we all know, many works of art don't approach meaningful value until after the death of the artist.

The only way I can see any success in artwork for you would be to pick up work as a professional graphic designer. And from what I understand of that industry, it's even harsher than that of a telephone sanitiser.

Sometimes you just have to compromise by doing a job you don't really enjoy and leave your hobbies as just that - a hobby.

I wanted a job playing games all day. So here I am supporting servers. We can't always choose what we want.

Just to be positive (1)

lashi (822466) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825965)

>If the market is full of telephone sanitisers, even though that's what you've always wanted to do, even if you're very good at it, it's still not going to happen for you as a career.

If you are a better telephone sanitisers than the competition, there is still a career for you in that.

He just wants to pick up a bit art skills to supplement his programming, "mostly icons or sprites" He isn't trying to be an artist.Don't try to sound all old and wise here. We all know you are just a highschool kid like the rest of us.

Anyways check out uk/ for forums and tutorials. Very slow site though.

Re:Don't mean to sound negative (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825966)

You're comment is great and all, but the question wasn't about how to become a professional artist. It was about how to make an icon that doesn't suck when you are a programmer and not an artist.

Re:Don't mean to sound negative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825975)

Sometimes you just have to compromise by doing a job you don't really enjoy and leave your hobbies as just that - a hobby.

Did you even read the post? The guy has a job. He's a programmer. The only reason he wants to draw is because he's too cheap to hire an artist.

Re:Don't mean to sound negative (1)

pdbogen (596723) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825981)

Mod parent down. Way down; Poster was saying he wants to develop artistic skills for creating, e.g., icons for applications that he writes.

Re:Don't mean to sound negative (1)

wirelessbuzzers (552513) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826026)

He doesn't want to be an artist. He doesn't want to make a living by art. He just wants not to have to hire an artist to make minor icons/interface elements in his programs.

Re: The design industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826027)

I don't know what you're smoking but the commercial (note 'commercial', not fine) art industry is doing quite well in the States. Unlike programing, it's not one of those things that everyone can do and is easily outsourced.

Here's a tip: Hire a designer. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825877)

How ridiculous would it sound to hear a designer say: "You know, I've got some really nice icons, but I just am not that good at the code thing. Anyone know where I can get some quick tips to slap some code on this icon?" If anyone could program, everyone would. If anyone could design graphics well, everyone would.

If you can afford Maya, Lightwave and PS ... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825881)

... then you can afford to commision a graphic designer ;)

Re:If you can afford Maya, Lightwave and PS ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825943)

He obviously pirated those products.

For an amateur (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825882)

don't bother with photoshop. While it has the tools to deliver the goods, it's not really designed for people unless they already have extensive experience using it.

I'd REALLY suggest trying GIMP. For a newcomer it's far easier to create good quality (and standard format) images. I've been in the same situation as you, and getting used to the way PS works for my own needs takes just a little too much time I could be spending coding.

Re:For an amateur (1)

citog (206365) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826056)

I tried using GIMP several times and just got really, really frustrated. Throwing down the money on Photoshop was painful but I ended up a lot happier when getting things done. Maybe I just needed to find a better tutorial for GIMP .. (2, Informative)

illusioned (733320) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825886)

One resource that has been invaluable to my company is [] . They make icons, splash screens, etc. It costs money, but it is not that expensive and you can use them for all your projects after just one purchase. The icons are also high color and very modern, give them a shot. (1)

maunleon (172815) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825958)

I disagree. Although I have not used the latest photoshop versions, previous ones seemed very intuitive. Much so than gimp.

I do however wish that pshop had more design tools, to complement the myriad of image processing tools.

disclaimer: have not used the latest of either tools.

Free Art Test! (2, Funny)

carambola5 (456983) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825891)

Free Art Test [] . Are you an artist? Find out Free. Premiere Home Study Program. aff.

--that's all i got from google's sponsored link.

I reccomend students (1)

chri (115088) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825908)

Students are a great resource - high school or college-level art-school.

Depending on your project, I might be willing to help out - you can see some cartoons, etc on my site:

Practice practice practice.... (2, Insightful)

tinrobot (314936) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825915)

As someone who makes my living as a digital artist, it's really just a matter of practice, practice, and more practice. Anyone who can write their name can potentially draw a good picture, but it takes time to train your eye and your muscles to accomplish that. Chuck Jones once said everyone has 100,000 bad drawing inside of them, so it's best to get the bad ones out of the way early. It's kind of the same for digital art.

If you don't have the time to practice, I'd say spend a few bucks get some good looking clip art. The stuff you buy at Fry's and Office Depot pretty much sucks, but there are some collections out there that look pretty darn good.

Riiiiight... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825931)

"Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor"

Oh, yes, he's struggling as a programmer but can afford thousands of dollars in digital imaging software. Not only that, but he "owns" both Maya and Lightwave and still doesn't know what he is doing? Who the hell owns both?

Icons (1)

Captain Tripps (13561) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825934)

I'm actually in a related bind myself. I've written a small freeware app for Mac OS X; nothing too fancy, but it does have users. I'm about to come out with version 2.0 soon, and I'd like to give it a real icon. Since this is OS X the standard of art expected is way beyond my limits, so I'd probably have to hire a a real icon designer.

So for others who have done this: Are the prices for this sort of thing reasonable? What are the typical licensing terms for the art? Will some designers give discounts for freeware/OSS apps? Is there somewhere you can solict bids? I can't really afford to spend serious money on this, since it'd be coming out of my own pocket.

Outsource! (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825935)

Yep. You heard it.

Write your applications such that the artwork can be easily added/updated later. Make it clear that artwork is NOT your forte, and that you'll structure your application to allow this later improvement without requiring (much of) your assistance. Make sure it works OK, and doesn't look TOO bad.

If anybody asks about looks, point to the contract. Also, maintain a good relationship with a good graphic artist, and don't forget to recommend him/her.

Ha (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825945)

Sorry, programers suck at art and artist suck at programing.
Ever wonder why OSS interfaces are so ugly and hard to use? Because there's no such thing as an open source artist. Best off you hire someone to do a good job instead of trying to half-ass it yourself.

What not to do (3, Informative)

plasm4 (533422) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825947)

For the love of god, please don't use photoshop lens flare effects! Unless of course you're going for a retro look.

Re:What not to do (4, Funny)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825983)

The lens flare... helping amateurs feel like professionals and professionals identify amateurs since 1996.

Welcome To The World Of Web Development (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825949)

As a web developer, I'm expected to be able to handle the web server updates (as well as security), do the database development, build applications and do web design as well.

It didn't use to always be this way: sys admin, web developer, database developer and web designer used to all be separate jobs. But in the modern economy, yes... the more self sufficient you are the better. Take some graphic design classes, start drawing in your spare time, etc.

The finer points of stick figures (3, Interesting)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825960)

If the product allows, there's a certain quasi-postmodern charm in "programmer art", if it is cohesive as a whole. Stick figures and such. It has to be completely confident in its kitchiness, though... amateurish art that is supposed to look professional is awful.

If it's for an office-esque app, though, the highly "modern professionalist" users would likely cringe in self-righteous disgust at such a suggestion.

Photoshop, LightWave, Maya? (2, Interesting)

jedrek (79264) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825968)

Wait, you don't have enough money to hire an artist, but you have enough money for Photoshop, Lightwave AND Maya? These packages cost... oh... a couple GRAND together? Hell, just PS (not studio) is $300-400.

Re:Photoshop, LightWave, Maya? (1)

imemyself (757318) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826054)

I believe there is a free version of Maya available, though there are a few rules about what you can and can't do with it. And I'm sure you can an old version of Photoshop fairly cheap off of eBay.

Keep it Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825971)

Fortunately a trend at the moment is to keep icons simple - simple icons look modern. My icons are not ambitious: they are created in MS Paint, are small, simple and deployed on global corporate systems - always with positive feedback. I use The GIMP for tinting and simple effects, and text based logos; if I used any more of it's features my graphics would be laughed out of the offices.

As long as the meaning is clear and they don't look like they've been drawn by a child (tip: use straight lines!) they should look fine.

helpful tip (1)

chriton (29476) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825974)

I know this isn't what is being asked, but I would make some artist friends. A practiced artistic eye is the best way to acheive professional looking icons and other graphics. Helpful hints will only get you so far.

If you really can't spare a penny (4, Insightful)

LeninZhiv (464864) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825978)

If the other suggestions given here are still beyond what you can realise, here's one no-cost solution that can work in a pinch (depending on the requirements of your application, of course):

1. Use Google images, a scanner, or any similar appropriate source to get stuff that looks as much like what you want as possible.
2. Open that image in GIMP, add a new layer over it and trace the outline of that image.
3. Delete the original layer (which you have no right to appropriate), and colorise the new layer with all your knowledge of gradiants, textures, etc. that you can muster. (Read up on what the GIMP has to offer in this department if necessary.)

This works especially well when you're developing for mobile applications or other situations where the loss of fine artistic ability is not likely to be noticed. If your needs go beyond this, however, it will not be adequate and many of the other suggestions presented here are far more appropriate.

Why programmers have a hard time becoming artists (5, Insightful)

alaivfc (823276) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825980)

The poster's comment about having the "right tools" (PS, Lightwave, etc.) exemplifies most programmer's and the general publics incorrect view on computer graphics and technology and art. IT'S JUST ANOTHER PAINTBRUSH.

All too many people think that if you have the right "digital tools" amazing Pixar quality art will pop-out. Its simply not true. The primary reason that pixar is so unbelievable is not because John Lasseter and co. are incredible programmers but because they are amazing artists that understand how to use their paintbrush-the computer-to the fullest extent.

Some posts have mentioned taking evening classes and such. That's a good idea, but all too many of them are stuck in the rut of teaching you how to do different tricks on a particular piece of software.

As a programmer who has dabbled in art my suggestion is to try and forget your programmer self. Don't look at Lightwave and see all its cool features, its extensibility, effects, etc. Approach the project just like you would if someone were to hand you a paintbrush and say paint a picture or a camera and say make a movie. In other words, understand the medium you are working with, but don't get engrossed in it. It's still just art.

To the posts commenting on pirated software (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825982)

So fucking what if he stole his software or purchased it, it's not your problem, stop bitching.

Mr. Painter, please write me an interface engine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825984)

Just as you wouldn't hire an oil painter to write you a Sun Java interface engine for your 100 or so interface apps, you wouldn't hire a programmer to know much about sign, signet, and symbol. Please hire a graphic designer... is a good resource.(I'd love to do your design for a relatively low price, but this comment will get modded down if I promote myself too heavily :)

You are overselling yourself (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10825992)

If you can't do what's required of a job, then you shouldn't be saying you can. Sell what you do best.

Partner with those who can, and offer up combined pricing to your clients, splitting the take.

The reason you aren't making enough money, is that your business skills are lacking. Very few tech have business chops too.

Just Give The Job To Someone (2, Funny)

Nehi the Ganchark (818676) | more than 9 years ago | (#10825993)

I've done a few (as in as I can count the total jobs I've done on my left hand) projects for programmers who couldn't design their way out of a wet paper bag. Problem is that not too many programmers have approached me with work, so it remains a hobby for me. It's been my experience that programmers simply don't want to deal with giving even small parts of their projects to others, quite likely out of fear that someone will shanghai their hard work. It's a legitimate concern, sure, but most graphic designers/artists aren't looking to burgle your code...

If you're having trouble with with your graphics, then by all means give the job to someone else. Please. There are plenty of folks who speak the same language you do who will do the work you need on the cheap.

A programmers experience... (1)

PrimeNumber (136578) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826000)

Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor.

I started out adding graphics elements to widgets, ie command buttons and toolbars on a windows platform and used regular MS paint. I learned my limited skills by looking at toolbar buttons, learned how color and shading were used to give objects different effects like raised, sunken, etc. I even borrowed an old trick used in the 80s on 8 bit game consoles and created the colors I needed by dithering others, (this was needed in the early to mid 90s because not all icon editors or development tools allowed more than the basic 16 colors, esp on toolbars.

Although it can take a while to learn more advanced functionality of Photoshop, I believe your problem is not knowing the best technique to accomplish the just need more experience.

Advice from a designer (5, Interesting)

SpamJunkie (557825) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826004)

I'm a professional designer with much experience with web sites. I've also worked on many other projects including a familiar theme for Enlightenment back when Enlightenment was popular.

I've seen a lot of sites designed by developers and I can tell you what to do - listen to what I say and you'll be better than 90% of the sites on the net: keep it simple.

This works on so many levels it's ridiculous. The most well designed sites [] with the most expensive designers do this as a matter of course. It's not only refreshingly easy on the eyes it's also good business.

Don't try to be gabocorp or razorfish - those guys already have the look-at-me-look-at-me-look-at-me market saturated. Most paying clients want something more professional. Stick to what you do well - developing, hopefully - and it'll get the recognition it deserves with a design that lets your real work shine through.

Pick a nice color scheme [] , stay away from comic sans and courier and you're halfway there. Leave the graphics for photos and logos, use color sparingly, and limit yourself to as few different colors and fonts as possible.

If you're really interested you could pick up a few design or mac magazines - really! even if you don't use a mac - just to get an idea of what clean & simple design is like.

I was in the same boat (3, Insightful)

skittixch (777368) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826020)

You must first be an artist, before you are a digital artist. Learn the fundamentals of the work you're trying to accomplish, if your area is in logo design, research effective logos, get a sketchbook, and jot down any ideas that come to mind. Don't be afraid to venture from the digital realm, that's where the magic happens. Let yourself design on paper, and create and articulate in the computer. (I've spent the past year at art school overcoming that very concept) good luck with your passions

color schemes (4, Insightful)

typhoonius (611834) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826028)

One thing I've consistently noticed about programmers is that they have no grasp of color theory. Witness the countless [] ridiculously [] low [] -contrast [] Blackbox [] themes [] . Hell, look at Windows XP's primary color-filled default theme.

In general, get to know the basics. Just looking cool doesn't make something usable, and the best art brings together prettiness and usability.

Ars longa vita brevis est. (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826030)

That saying is attributed to Hippocrates, it means "life is short, but art is long [enduring]." There is a more modern version I heard in art school (which, incidentally, had that motto carved in marble over the entrance). It goes, "life is short, art is long, and success is very far off."
And there's the point. It takes long, persistent study to develop your artistic skills. And there is no other way than to do it the same way it has been done for centuries: by studying the works of other talented artists, and trying to figure out how they made those works, studying their techniques and tools, and emulating them.
I have always asserted that it takes much more effort and talent to become a great artist than to become a great programmer. Almost anyone with a logical mind can develop the skills to become a programmer. But an artist needs a spark of imagination and talent, and the ability to think a BIT differently than anyone else, that is one of the rarest commodities on earth. There are a lot more talented programmers than talented artists, which should give you some idea of the rarity of those respective talents.
In short, you do not have the time to develop artistic skills and still be a programmer. Find a real artist and hire them.

ignorance anyone? (0, Troll)

5cameron (820637) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826037)

Its all I can do to stop from flaming at the sight of this post. I see design as a very democratic medium, but looking for shortcuts to something that is extremely complex and people have been devoting their entire lives to for hundreds of years seems a tad presumptuous. Call me elitist, but I am not eager to share my knowledge for someone who sees what I do as unnecessary and unprofessional. Lie in it. I did say I was democratic right? So look at /., does it look "professional"? Stop trying to look professional because you aren't a professional. If you are truly devoted to the craft then get off of slashdot and into a classroom, or to a library. Graphic design isn't something you can fake, sorry. You need either talent or experience... a pirated version of Photoshop means bupkus.

Some survival tips from a fellow non-expert. (5, Informative)

adolfojp (730818) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826040)

These are some of the things that I've learned from my mistakes and from experience. I was in your situation about two years ago. Enjoy!
  • 1. Stock photos. A good picture is worth a 1000 design elements. Start scavenging for stock photos NOW. A good place to start is here: [] .
  • 2. Avoid excessive effects and filters when not needed. Nothing ruins a good design like trying to emboss everything or making it 3D.
  • 3. Keep it clean and simple. Think Apple.
  • 4. Learn from the experts. Visit places like [] You can even post designs and get peer reviews. Also, http://http// [http] will help.
  • 5. Use and abuse CSS. The separation of design elements from everything else will help immensely. You will be amazed by this site: [] Change the themes and be amazed by the power of CSS!!!
  • 6. Buy graphic design books, preferably those with collections of commercial art made by different designers. Get inspired ;-)
  • 7. Get a digital camera and take lots and lots of pictures of the world around you. Current examples of designs and logos and ads will help.
I hope that helps!


Time-Warping to 1993 (2, Interesting)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826041)

[Doing my best Mako [] impression:]

"Once upon a time, when the WWW was whipping across the business landscape like a cold wind from the North, nobody in business had a clue how to wrangle it. Was it an IT thing? A Marketing thing? A New Business thing? It was a Time of Chaos, and still-moist script-jockies were christened "Web Masters" and given the imprimatur, "Um, do your thing. And here's a six figure salary, cuz we haven't a clue what 'your thing' is. Oh, and make it look 'cool,' cuz we heard it's supposed to look 'cool.'"

And they did their thing.

And it looked dreadful.

Happily, business recovered, bean counters and Marketing Directors finally found something upon which they could agree, and color-blind code-jockeys were partnered with art-types so the WWW could outgrow its purple-orange acne-encrusted adolescence and mature into pseudo-suave 'white-is-the-new-black' twenty-something hipsterism."

Bottom line: I'd rather teach an artist how to code (and have done so), then let a coder try to "do art." But if you want it to look remotely professional, you prolly need at least two heads involved.

Keep it simple (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826045)

Well, what advice would you give an artist who had to do all their own programming? You'd tell them to keep everything simple, don't get too ambitious, don't try fancy architectures or get hung up on optimization.

The same thing is true of you: keep it simple. Go for clarity, not ethereal beauty. Pick a font and stick to it. Pick one very, very simple color scheme and stick to it. Eliminate anything that is unnecessary, especially anything "decorative."

And don't be discouraged... Oddly enough, if you focus on simplicity and consistency and forget about beauty, you may have the best chance of creating something people call beautiful!

Despite owning a few key apps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826046)

Admit it, you don't own licenses for these apps. You stole them you stinking bastard!

Microsoft to the rescue! (4, Informative)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826048)

This is a wonderful style guide [] to building icons meant for Windows XP, and the techniques are good for icons of all sorts. You can figure out how to build good looking icons out of simple design elements.

A tip for you... (1)

katpurz (721210) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826050)

put a link to your site if you get a blurb on Slashdot... otherwise you just missed your shot

Learn to Think Like an Artist (4, Insightful)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826060)

Like, I expect, most people here I was unable to draw more than stick figures until I read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain [] by Betty Edwards. Here are some samples of my drawings [] .

Edwards based her book on the results of experiments performed by Roger Sperry of Caltech. Sperry's experiments used people whose brains had been severed in the middle to treat severe epilepsy. By studying how these "split-brain" patients reacted to stimuli sent via the sense organs to one side of the brain or the other, Sperry was able to deduce that our artistic ability is centered in the right hemisphere of the brain, while our logical and verbal ability comes from the left.

Most slashdotters are heavily left-brained people. But artists are right brained people. To create artwork for your software, you have to learn to think with your right hemisphere.

Edwards says in her book that anyone who can learn to think in what she calls "R-Mode" can learn to draw. The earlier lessons in her book focus on stimulating that sort of thought while quieting the interference from the left hemisphere.

She teaches drawing with pencil and paper, but once you've completed the exercises in her book I'm sure you will have a much easier time using computer graphics applications.

The right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for more than just visual art. At the same time as I learned to draw from Drawing on the Right I taught myself to play the piano. In 1994 I borrowed some recording equipment from a friend and recorded my album Geometric Visions [] , which you can download in MP3 format. (Ogg as soon as I get off my lazy arse and encode it.)

LightWave and Maya? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10826062)

What the fuck good are those supposed to do for icon design?
Draw on paper, scan, trace in Illustrator.
What's that? You can't draw? Well shit, I guess you better hire someone who actually knows what the fuck they are doing instead of failing like you will.

From a Computer Engineer (1)

kai.chan (795863) | more than 9 years ago | (#10826066)

As a computer engineer, I can usually draw better than my peers. Unlike picking up another porgramming language, I don't think artistic talent can be learned readily, because you need an eye for colors, shapes, and style that I notice my scientific peers just do not possess.

Ever since a kid, I would try and copy styles from mecha comic books. I worked very hard when I was little to draw something as close to the original as possble. Not to sound discouraging, but I don't think it is possible to "learned to be self-sufficient" before your contract is over. What you can do, however, is follow the numerous art tutorials on the net and try your best to duplicate the Photoshop effects to something usable.

As a side-note, here are some of my artwork:
deviantART [] or My Website []

The drawings from my sketchbook are mostly redraw of original artwork by other artists. If you do decide to learn art for future uses, I think the best way to start learning art is to try duplicating a professional artist as close as possible. Once you get an eye for colors, shapes, and line distances, you should be able to realize art concepts in your head.
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